Monday, April 25, 2022


This month has mostly been full of duds, so thank god that there's still one good maid manga out there that I hadn't talked about yet. 

SHIRLEY (Shari), by Kaoru Mori.  First published in 2003 and first published in North America in 2008.


In this short story collection, we follow three young maids.  The first is Shirley, a 13-year-old girl who is hired by a widowed cafe owner to be a housemaid only to become something closer to a friend or a substitute daughter.  There's also the story of Nellie, who serves as a constant companion to her lonely young charge.  Finally there's Mary Banks, who must deal with the fallout of her former master's prank well after his death.


Much like Something and Anything, this is a collection of early short stories from Kaoru Mori.  This might feel a little redundant to Emma fans, but aside from the general Victorian era setting and a cameo from William Jones' youngest sister there's no connection to Mori's better-known maid manga.  Like Something and Anything, though, these stories are entertaining in their own ways as they explore the complexities of relationships between master and servant.

Half of the book is dedicated to the story of the titular Shirley and her mistress Miss Bennett.  This one will probably give Emma fans the greatest sense of deja vu as the dynamic between them resembles the sort of adoptive mother/daughter vibe that Emma had with Mrs. Stowner.  Still, Shirley is a much younger person and it shows in little moments like the way she twirls in her new uniform or dotes upon the doll gifted to her.  Mrs. Bennett clearly enjoys finding ways to mother Shirley, considering that her business and status as a widow leaves her with little time for personal relationships beyond her clientele and the odd relative.

The other two stories are shorter and more self-contained, but in both cases the maids are much more peripheral to the plot.  Nellie's story is more about her kindergarten-aged master coming to terms with the death of a pet and finding age-appropriate friends than it is about Nellie herself.  Mary's is about her and the house steward and the endless prank war their eccentric master wages on them.  After he dies, his remaining pranks become more a celebration of his life and the loyalty his two servants felt towards him.  The one thing these stories have in common is that they possess the sort of lived-in, cozy quality that most of Mori's manga possess.  It's maybe a little more bite-sized than usual, but Shirley is a collection that can stand proudly with Mori's other works.


Since these are early works from Kaoru Mori, the art here isn't quite as refined as her later, longer manga but it still has the same keen eye for historical detail and nuanced emotion.  Mori hadn't yet developed her signature shovel-shaped faces and subtle facial expressions, but she still manages to communicate so much about the cast through their style of dress, hair, and gesture.  The background are finely detailed, even if they are mostly interior scenes.  There's even room for a bit of her signature brand of fanservice.  What, you thought there were plot reasons that Miss Bennett is so frequently seen in her nightgown or undergarments with her hair loose? True to form, she makes this look appealing, which is no small feat considering how modest and blousy Victorian undergarments were.  Even if it's not Mori at her peak, it's still a very good-looking book.


Shirley is hard to come by these days, but it's a book that can be appreciated just as much by Kaoru Mori newcomers as it can be by seasoned fans like myself.  For newcomers it's a fine introduction to Mori's style of storytelling, art, and love of Victorian history.  For fans it's an interesting peek into her earlier days and on ideas she would refine upon in later works.  

This book was published by CMX.  It is currently out of print.

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